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Summer Safety Alert: Never Leave Children Alone in Cars

June 10, 2012

By Michelle LaRowe
Editor in Chief, eNannySource.com

We are barely into summer and caregivers are already making news for leaving their children unattended in motor vehicles on hot summer days. Fortunately, in one of the first reported cases of 2012, the children remained unharmed.

But sadly, this is not always the case.

As of June 2012, at least 3 children have already died from heatstroke (hyperthermia) after being left unattended in motor vehicles, according to publications by Jan Null of the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University that tracks Hyperthermia deaths in children in vehicles and whose research has been published in Pediatrics, The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Considering that on average, 38 children per year in the United States die from heatstroke after being left unattended in motor vehicles, it’s a guarantee that the 2012 number is going to rise.

But that guarantee can be voided. Deaths from motor vehicle related heatstroke are prevented by not leaving a child in a motor vehicle unattended.

Many parents and caregivers just don’t realize just how quickly a motor vehicle heats up and that it doesn’t have to be hot outside for a child to suffer serious injury or death. In fact, Jan Null’s research shows that even on days with mild weather, when the temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, motor vehicles can reach life-threatening temperatures very quickly.

In just ten minutes, the interior temperature of a vehicle can rise to 20 degrees warmer than outside. In thirty minutes, it can rise to nearly 35 degrees warmer. If it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit outdoors, after 60 minutes, the temperature inside of the motor vehicle could reach 123 degrees Fahrenheit!  And cracking the window has little effect on the rapid increase of temperatures.

Heatstroke occurs when the body’s temperature reaches over 104 degrees Fahrenheit and it can no longer regulate its temperature effectively. At 107 degree Fahrenheit, the body shuts down. Since children’s bodies aren’t as efficient in regulating temperature, they can warm much faster than adults.

While many parents and caregivers justify leaving their children in the car for just a minute or two while they run into the house because they forgot something or pop into the dry cleaners to pick up the laundry, they fail to realize in many states, doing so is illegal.

This summer, as you transport children, be extra vigilant.

  • Don’t leave children unattended in a motor vehicle, even for a moment.
  • Leave your pocketbook, wallet, keys to your work or something else that you need on the floor of the backseat. This will prompt you to return to the car if you leave without it.
  • Make a habit of checking your vehicle for people before your shut and lock the doors.
  • Consider putting a stuffed animal in your child’s car seat and moving it to the front seat when your child is with you and buckled in.
  • Don’t allow children to play in vehicles.
  • If you are transporting children when you typically wouldn’t, like driving them to daycare before you go to work, ask someone to call to confirm you’ve dropped them off.
  • Put a reminder note to take the child with you on your dashboard.
  • Let the other adult know you’ve got the baby. Confirm someone has carried the baby in to avoid miscommunication.
  • Tell your caregiver not to leave your children unattended in the car, even for a moment.

If you see a child in a motor vehicle unattended, call 911. The child may not have time for you to hesitate in hopes that the parent or caregiver returns.

The 1998, at least 530 children have died as a direct result of hyperthermia related to being left in a motor vehicle unattended. Don’t let a child in your care be a statistic. Make a personal commitment to always being with your child when he’s in the car and to double check that everyone has exited the vehicle before shutting and locking the doors.

Michelle LaRowe is the editor in chief of eNannySource.com. For more than half of her life she has worked as a professional nanny and is now raising her own children, Abby, 4 and Luke, 2. Michelle is the author of Nanny to the Rescue!, Nanny to the Rescue, Again!, Working Mom’s 411 and A Mom’s Ultimate Book of Lists.


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